You’ve got the patio. You’ve got the grill. You’ve halfway to a perfect summer party--no need to stress over the rest. From affordable decorations to catered (shhh!) sides, here are our seven tricks for pulling it off without melting down.

Party Cheats Plates

Use Disposable Plates

Check out these five websites that sell high-quality disposable tableware so pretty, you won?t want to toss it--like these feel-good flamingo plates carried by Chicago-based Elliewood Collections.

Party Cheats 3

Pick Up Dessert

You don’t have to make all of the food. When it’s dessert time, bring out beautiful fruit tarts loaded with seasonal produce from the new Lakeview bakeshop Southern France. (The spot is helmed by Vosges Haut Chocolat’s former head of research and development.)

1405 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-857-1478 or southernfrancechicago.com 

Party Cheats 5

Be Patriotic

The Fourth is coming up and there?s nothing more festive--or affordable--than a table decorated with these tiny American flags ($3 for 12) from the West Town party supply store Doolin?s. Add them to flowers or spring for the little stands that make them wave just so.

511 N. Halsted St.; 800-350-4870 or doolins.com  

Party Cheats 4

Start with a Sipper

Begin the party with a signature drink like Cocktail Courier?s Strawberry Piscoritas. The company will deliver all of the ingredients you need to make them--plus super-clear how-to instructions--to your door.

Party Cheats Lights

Set the Scene

For instant atmosphere, invest in a strand of commercial-grade string lights like these from Restoration Hardware ($140). Hang them overhead and pretend your house is the world’s most charming sidewalk bistro.

938 W. North Ave.; 312-475-9116 or restorationhardware.com 

Party Cheats Macaroni

Cater Your Sides

See #2: There's no need to cook until you’re too tired to eat. As part of Mariano’s ultimate domination of Chicago, the grocery chain always has colorful tropical fruit and impressive sushi platters ready to go, plus all of the mayo-based salads and slaws you could ever dream of. Arrange in a nice bowl and don’t apologize.

Locations throughout the city and suburbs; marianos.com 

Party Cheats Pinata

Provide Easy Entertainment

With dizzy people whacking away at a festive paper sculpture, your party just went from so-so to so much fun. The biggest selection of piñatas in town is at Dulcelandia, a local Mexican candy store that has more options than you can, um, shake a stick at. Or, make your own star piñata with this DIY tutorial.

3855 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-235-7825 or dulcelandia.com

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